Pennsylvania’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission is scheduled to give an up-or-down vote on limiting carbon dioxide emissions. A yes vote would likely give Governor Tom Wolf the leverage to override legislative objections and force Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Gordon Tomb of Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation and the CO2 Coalition hopes that does not happen.
“RGGI is expected to lead to the immediate closure of three coal-fired power plants in two western Pennsylvania counties — Armstrong and Indiana,” says Tomb. “These plants — equipped with modern pollution-control equipment valued (at) many millions of dollars — make enough electricity for five million homes.”
Tomb puts the economic loss at 8,100 jobs, $34.3 million in state tax revenue, $3.7 million in local taxes, $539 million in total employee compensation, and over $1 billion in operating expenditures.
“RGGI would be a forced trade of safe, economical energy sources for an absurd political agenda that will damage people’s lives and improve the environment, not one iota,” he said.
Wolf first pushed for Pennsylvania to join RGGI in 2019, saying the cap-and-trade agreement with northeast and mid-Atlantic states is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change while generating economic growth.
“Climate change is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributions to greenhouse gas emissions,” Wolf said when he issued his executive order in 2019 instructing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to join RGGI.
“Given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania and the entire planet, the commonwealth must continue to take concrete, economically sound and immediate steps to reduce emissions,” said Wolf. “Joining RGGI will give us that opportunity to better protect the health and safety of our citizens.”
Wolf is facing bipartisan opposition. In July, six Democrats — including Delaware Valley Senator John Kane (D-Chester, Delaware) — helped pass a veto-proof bill to stop Governor Wolf from unilaterally putting Pennsylvania in RGGI.
“We need to transition towards an increased reliance on clean and renewable energy – I think we all know that – and I’ve supported legislation to do that, but I want to make sure there’s a plan in place to support our working people and our working families before we make that transition,” Kane told Delaware Valley Journal. “After bearing the brunt of the pandemic, I want to make sure that all of our workers are at the center of our economy and our economic transition.”
The Environmental Quality Board (ECB) has already voted to push Pennsylvania into RGGI, but House Republicans like Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chair Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) warned this would harm, not help Pennsylvanians.
“India, Turkey, China, Vietnam, they’re all going gangbusters to build coal-fired power plants,” said Metcalfe at a committee hearing this summer. “What’s being proposed here is just going to hurt Pennsylvanians, hurt Americans, for very negligible impacts (on) any CO2 issues that might actually be an issue.”
Organized labor has also expressed concerns about RGGI’s impacts on businesses and what it means for jobs. In 2020, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO told members of the Pennsylvania Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee (AQTAC) that RGGI would impose a carbon tax on coal and natural gas plants that would prove financially fatal to several key jobmakers around the state.
“That, combined with the economic impact of COVID-19, would decimate communities and pass energy rate hikes onto consumers at the worst possible time,” said federation President Rick Bloomingdale.
And the group Pittsburgh Works Together — an alliance of organized labor, business, and civic leaders — has urged the Independent Regulatory Review Commission to reject Pennsylvania’s entry into RGGI. They note a DEP report predicting “Pennsylvania’s firm power prices will increase by 19.46 percent (constant dollars) by 2030” as a result.
“Organized labor is definitely concerned about RGGI’s impacts on businesses and what it means for jobs,” adds Leo Knepper, political director for Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania. “The governor’s actions will destroy Pennsylvania’s economy.”
Governor Wolf – who declined to respond to requests for comment — stands by his efforts.
“Participating in RGGI will further our commonwealth’s climate goals, mitigate ongoing damage from climate change, and invest in our workforce,” said Wolf at a RGGI-related event in June. “Funds brought in through RGGI will allow us to make targeted investments to support workers and communities affected by energy transition, invest in environmental justice, and strengthen Pennsylvania’s clean energy, commercial, and industrial sectors.”
If the five-member Independent Regulatory Review Commission votes yes on RGGI, the state attorney general’s office will have 30 days to review the situation.